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What will shut down if Hollywood crews strike? Your IATSE questions, answered

A woman writes "fair wages for all" on a union member's car
Donna Young of IATSE Local 700 Motion Picture Editors Guild writes a message of “fair wages for all” on a union member’s car during a Sept. L.A. rally
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

At 12:01 am on Monday, 60,000 TV and film crew members could stage an historic strike.

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees President Matthew Loeb said union members would walk off the job if they could not hash out a new contract with the major studios by Monday.

A strike would halt productions nationwide and pose a major blow to one of Southern California’s most important industries.

Here is what you need to know about a potential IATSE strike:

What is IATSE ?

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IATSE represents 150,000 technical workers employed across the entertainment industry, including stagehands who work in theater productions and concerts. But it is the 60,000 IATSE members working in film and television who are poised to strike on Monday.

This union is composed of 13 Hollywood IATSE locals representing cinematographers, hairdressers, grips, makeup artists, sound editors, on-set dressers and other below-the-line workers. Also included is an additional 23 union locals that represent workers outside Los Angeles and New York.

The strike would be unprecedented for IATSE, which has traditionally avoided confrontations with the studios to keep its members working. It would be the first in the union’s 128-year history and affect workers in such production hubs of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Atlanta. The union has staged much smaller walkouts, such as in 2018 when 300 national freelance broadcast workers at the Golf Channel went on strike for 11 days.

What do they want?

IATSE has been pushing for various improvements to its contract with studios, including demands for higher wages and increased compensation from streaming productions.

Streaming shows pay crews less than traditional broadcast networks because years ago they were considered “new media” and crews wanted to foster new modes of employment. But now they see streaming is booming and that pandemic-driven home viewing has boosted the stock prices of these companies.

Another big sticking point: long hours. The union argues that as studios have tried to make up for lost time caused by production shutdowns, they have subjected workers to increasingly long hours on set, creating unsafe working conditions.

Studios, still recovering from heavy financial losses caused by the pandemic, have disputed the union’s claims. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of companies such as Walt Disney and Netflix, says it has offered increases in rest periods and wage hikes for the lowest-paid members and has agreed to cover a projected $400-million deficit in the union’s health and pension plans.

Why have they set a deadline to strike?

IATSE’s main contract for film and TV workers expired on July 31. It was extended until Sept. 10, in part to allow unions and studios time to renegotiate a return-to-work agreement that covers COVID-19 safety protocols, pay and sick leave.

But union leaders have grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress in five months of talks. They secured a strike authorization vote this month that drew nearly unanimous support.

“Without an end date, we could keep talking forever,” Loeb said Wednesday.

Who will be affected by a strike?

Some 60,000 workers employed on dramatic, scripted TV shows and feature films will walk off the job if no deal is reached by Monday.

Crews employed under different contracts, such as those covering commercial shoots, music videos, low-budget theatrical shoots and live sports, can continue to work. Additionally, crews who work on nonunionized reality TV series and other unscripted programs may also be unaffected.

Some productions that air first on premium cable channels such as HBO, Showtime and Starz could also continue, as they fall under a separate contract that runs through the end of 2022, according to the IATSE pay TV contracts. There may be gray areas that will require labor attorneys to figure out whether shows can proceed.

Those on strike will not be able to claim unemployment benefits in states like California. IATSE does not have a strike fund to assist members, though some locals do have hardship funds and some are sharing tips on how to subsist without paychecks.

Also affected will be small businesses that supply various services to industry, such as prop houses, transport companies, catering companies, dry cleaners, costume houses and equipment rental outlets.

How will my TV shows or movies be affected?

Studios would not be able to replace union crews, in effect shutting down the vast majority of scripted TV and feature film production nationwide.

“This is a unique circumstance because these are highly skilled workers, not to mention the hazard of untrained workers dealing with, for example, heavy equipment and electricity,” said Helen Rella, an employment attorney at New York-based firm Wilk Auslander.

Some shows such as ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” will come off the air immediately. Others could have episode release dates delayed or even canceled, depending on how long a strike lasts.

Late-night talk shows on NBC and CBS — NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers” and CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and “The Late Late Show With James Corden” — would not be affected as they are largely staffed by workers from a different union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Shutting down a film production after it starts can be extremely costly for producers. Even a short stoppage could throw productions into chaos as A-list actors often have only short windows to film their scenes before they are lost to another project.


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